St. Charles bar and tavern owners won a 20-day reprieve Tuesday night during which they will be expected to outline what they will do to stave off drunken brawls and end overserving of alcoholic beverages to their patrons or face a citywide 1 a.m. closing time.
The city’s Class B and Class C liquor license holders are allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. under St. Charles’ ordinance. But the weekend of Aug. 3 saw a jump in the number of drunken brawls — including assaults on police officers, as well as a spike in the number of intoxicated persons reports. Mayor Donald DeWitte said that in the case of the street fights, officers included in their reports that, in their opinions, individuals involved were extremely intoxicated.
The bar fights were one concern, but the drunkenness of the individuals involved indicated the bars and taverns were failing to take the proper precautions to ensure patrons were not being over-served alcoholic beverages, the mayor told the council’s Government Operations Committee on Aug. 20. Consequently, he proposed changing the city’s closing time back to 1 a.m.
The move apparently shocked liquor license holders, who turned out en masse for Tuesday night’s meeting in City Hall. Naperville attorney Russ Whitaker spoke on behalf of 11 establishments as he pleaded with the City Council to delay final action on the proposal.
He met with frank skepticism.
Whitaker said cutting back St. Charles’ bar hours would create a hardship on the businesses by giving a competitive advantage to bars and taverns in neighboring communities that have 2 a.m. closing times. He also said his understanding of the city’s decision to extend bar hours to 2 a.m. In the first place was a concession to liquor license holders after the city imposed a 2 percent tax on liquor dealers.
He asked the council to give the bar and tavern owners an opportunity to respond. “Engage us in a dialogue,” he urged the council.
Whitaker also noted that his clients were caught unaware by DeWitte’s proposal and had little time to react. He said his clients uniformly want to create a St. Charles restaurant and tavern association to establish an ongoing dialogue with the city that does not exist now.
In terms of the fights, Whitaker said his clients have suggested establishing a list of people in fights and excluding them from admittance in future. He said his clients also want a clear definition of the term “overserving,” and suggested meetings with DeWitte, Police Chief James Lamkin and City Administrator Brian Townsend.
“We have ideas … Give us the opportunity to have a dialogue with you,” he said.
But the questions and some comments that came from the council indicated skepticism, if not outright disbelief on their parts.
“I don’t want to hear about a restaurant association … I want to hear how you’re going to monitor who is being served,” DeWitte said.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Rita Anne Payleitner specifically pointed to a meeting between the council and bar owners in May at which overserving was discussed in depth. She also noted that during that meeting, the liquor license holders were asked specifically who benefits from being open the extra hour until 2 a.m., and only one or two indicated they did.
Alderiwoman Maureen Lewis, 5th Ward, said she, too, thought the council laid out its concerns very clearly at the meeting in May.
Their statements were echoed by DeWitte.
Both 3rd Ward aldermen expressed their skepticism as well. Alderman William Turner said he could not accept Whitaker’s statements that bar owners could not respond earlier, saying the opportunity was there. And Alderman Raymond Rogina, referring to Whitaker’s remarks about the extended bar hours being a concession for the 2 percent tax increase, said that from 2010, when the 2 a.m. closing time was initiated, through 2012, St. Charles has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of reports for fights and intoxicated subjects.
“You must concede that we have to think about what is best for the entire community, not one segment of the community,” he said.
Still, Whitaker’s remarks persuaded some members of the council enough that they agreed to table the ordinance until Sept. 24, but even they expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo.
“We’re really tired of fights downtown … and it’s not just college kids,” said 2nd Ward Alderman Cliff Carrignan.
“This is a tough situation for us … there are people who live nearby,” added 1st Ward Alderman Dan Stellato, although he, too, said he could agree to a delay.
The motion to table passed 5-4, with Aldermen Turner, Rogina, 4th Ward Alderman James E. Martin and 4th Ward Alderwoman Jo Krieger voting no. Alderman Ed Bessner, 5th Ward, abstained.
Townsend, the city administrator, said he, Mayor DeWitte and Police Chief Jim Lamkin would schedule one or two meetings with representatives of the bar and tavern owners to discuss the issues prior to the Sept. 24 City Council meeting.
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